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Friday, January 25, 2013

Genius Hour Reviewed

For several weeks the topic of conversation in our classroom surrounded our trial of Genius Hour.  Students were excited about being given the time and opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them.  They LOVED the term - Student Driven Learning!

Most students had an idea right away - while others needed time to think and plan.  Some students decided to work together while others chose to work independently.  Some students would use the computer, while others would use different tools.

Our 'hour' began at 1:45 p.m. Students excitedly collected their supplies and went straight to work. The level of engagement was something at which to marvel.  For over an hour students were completely engrossed in their learning while they created comic strips on the computer, sewed a pillow, researched hedgehogs, experimented with volcanoes, created mazes from wood, researched a Brazilian Gospel singer, and so many other topics.

Experimenting with a Volcano
There were audible groans and moans when the bell sounded signaling the end of our school day and thus the ending of their Genius Hour.  The disbelief that the 'hour' was up was clear by looking at the disappointment on my students' faces. Many had not accomplished the tasks they set out for themselves.  Many asked if they could have more time the following day.

Appreciating the students' involvement in their learning I decided to give them some extra time the next day to 'finish' their Genius work.  When I announced it in the morning there were fist pumps and 'yays'!  When the time came, students again began to work diligently.

Over the next two days there was time for students to quickly share their learning with their classmates.  Students listened intently and asked thoughtful questions. At the end students all wanted to know when to expect the NEXT Genius Hour.  This makes me realize the power of allowing and trusting students to follow their interests and passion.  Success in learning!
Ideas for next Genius Hour:
Poster about the Great Depression
  • Allow more time (one student told me she needed a "Genius Hour-Forty-five")
  • Assign work spaces so students are not crowding each other. (Some students who were working independently needed to be further away from the partner groups.  A student or two could have used a study carrel for less distractions.)
  • Require supplies be brought to school ahead of time. (Some students were scrambling to find supplies around the classroom as they thought of last minute items.  Some students relied on their partner to provide supplies only to find out there was no follow through.)
  • Conference with students to see what plan they are following and make suggestions or guide students in this critical area. (While I asked them to write their steps down a day or two beforehand, it wasn't enough time for me to ascertain if students had really had a good idea of how to begin and what to do next. While some students didn't need this planning piece; several others could have benefited from a little guidance from me.)
  • Embrace sharing (Sounds silly, but I wanted the students to be more interested in what they were doing/learning,  but many of them were just itching to share what they had learned.  When the students finally shared I was able to really get a better sense of all they had done.  It also strengthened their learning while inspiring others.)
    Learning about Dreams
Questions I'm still pondering: 
  • Should students be allowed to start their work at home? My directions stated the learning was to be done DURING Genius Hour in school.  However many of my students went home and started researching right away, which showed enthusiasm. Some others elicited help from their folks. Both make me wonder about the amount of parental involvement.
  • What kinds of suggestions do I make for those students who are not sure WHAT to pursue? A few students finished early and were not sure what to do. I asked them to extend/expand on what they had done.  These students came to a standstill.  I was taken aback but a colleague said - "why would you be...we are always directing the students' learning so they aren't sure what to do when given the chance!" That made sense to me!
  • Should I discourage the use of tools like hammers, nails & power tools? One group of students used a hammer and nails and they banged their thumbs at least once! One boy got a splinter with the wood he was using.  Another child was planning on bringing in a power screwdriver.  While I like the idea of allowing students to try using these types of tools, I'm not sure if the safety issue outweighs the learning aspect. (Interestingly, one student recommended we not "allow" the use of power tools in class.) 
  • Building a maze
  • Should I insist on having a back up plan or alternative learning plan for early finishers? A couple of students finished early and they seemed to be stuck when it came to extending the learning on their topic.  I was in a quandary as to whether to send them in another direction or not. 
Genius Hour is here to stay! I am convinced in this first showing that students need time to pursue their interests.  I am convinced that allowing them time will further promote their curiosity.

Do you have any advice regarding the above questions?  Would love to hear your thoughts about student driven learning. 


  1. Oh, man! How fun is that? This is awesome. You had such a great day. And you have a genius reflection here, Nancy. I'm so excited for you and your learners. My favorite quote, "Genius hour is here to stay."

    I do have a little advice for a couple of your questions. Actually another question, Why not let kids work at home and with parents' help and blessing?

    One back up plan for those who finish early is to work on a presentation about what they did during genius hour. They can take pictures or video along the way. They can write a blog post. Make an Animoto or other movie of their genius hour product. I would think that would fill in the time they have left. Do you think it would? Or is that already part of their work?

    Thanks, Nancy, for sharing your awesome learning with us!


    1. Hi Denise (my inspiration for Genius Hour!),
      It's funny about the home learning piece. One of my students went home right after I talked about Genius Hour & worked on his project. He came the next day with report in hand. During Genius Hour he put together a poster with pictures and then began labeling. Other students had their families taking them to the local Home Depot. I worried that then the ideas/plans are not truly the students, and that some students will not receive that help.

      But after writing this reflection I realized that if the kids are are going home EXCITED about learning (and receiving some help along the way) then Genius Hour will be supported and one of the Goals (excitement over learning) is being accomplished.

      I like the idea of the student chronicling their work if they finish early. This will also serve as reflection for them which truly extends the learning.

      On a side note: On the day of Genius Hour I placed that easel outside of my room. I could hear all the students that passed by my doorway discussing it. Students in the 5th grade wanted to know if THEY were Geniuses and were THEY going to have a Genius Hour! Love the excitement that the word "Genius" brings.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experiences - it only took me a whole year to jump in!

  2. I LOVE THIS! I love everything about it! I would love to see what you gave as instructions. How far ahead of the actual Genius Hour did you introduce the idea? Could I pull it off this next Friday?

    I REALLY like Denise's idea for having them document what they are doing with pictures and video and then blog about the experience. I will incorporate that!

    My favorite quote is also "Genius Hour is Here to Stay!"

    Question: How often do you think you will do this?

    Thank you, Nancy, for sharing and inspiring others!


    1. Hi Amy,
      So happy you found my blog!! I started prepping the idea of Genius Hour two weeks before the actual day. Then a couple days before I had them completing an objective worksheet so I could see their plan. I think I would do this further in advance so that I could guide them a little better. They didn't really get the word "Objective" but will continue to review that with them for the next time.
      I like Denise's idea of having the students take videos & blog about their experience. For some students (thinking of the boy with the exploding volcano) it was rather messy & not sure he could have stopped to take pictures (although I did happen to film the eruption for him so he could share that with the class).
      My students got totally hung up on the sharing piece. They wanted everyone to see their work. I wanted them to be more focused about what they were doing rather than worry about sharing. In the end, the sharing piece turned out to be the best idea (although it took more time).
      I totally think you could pull it off this Friday, but if you wanted to introduce the idea and discuss it - have them make a plan - they might need another week.
      We should start an Edmodo Group for Genius Hour! How fun will that be to share our Genius with others!
      So glad you commented!

  3. Thanks Nancy. I am really keen to introduce genius time into my classroom this year and it really helpful reading your reflections. I think if the kids are keen enough to get a head start with their research at home, then that is great. It would be much more purposeful homework than the oft given spelling and tables!
    Look forward to hearing more as your genius' progress.

    1. Mary - You are so right. It took me a bit to see that but they really were excited about getting started at home. Homework should be purposeful and this seemed to be the case for many students!

      You can be sure that I'll be sharing more Genius Hours.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. This is soooo great. Are you self contained? I'm scared to try it right now, but I might do this toward the end of the year!!


  5. Shannon,
    It has taken me a year of reading posts and tweets about Genius Hour. I'm not sure why I waited so long (perhaps because my students are fourth graders, perhaps I was worried about the curriculum). So glad that we finally attempted it. The kids really got a lot out of it and to me, that's what learning is supposed to be all about. Can't wait to see what happens at the next Genius Hour!
    I am self-contained and have 20 students. I was able to have access to about 10 computers (3 desktops & 7 laptops). This really helped for those who were doing research-based topics. Also, I have an aide in my classroom who is invaluable as she helped one of the students learn how to sew! It really was nice to have someone else in the classroom.
    Please let me know if I can help/guide you in your first Genius Hour! Check out this for more information:
    Thank you for taking the time to comment & congrats on your longest run!

  6. :) ill check out that link.

    2 more quick questions.

    1. Are you doing this once each week, month?

    2. How much assistance did you give students while they were working?

    Thanks!! Shannon

  7. Nancy~
    You never cease to amaze me!!! I wish I was in your classroom! What an awesome idea. I think we often have so much curriculum to get through that we can lose sight of the power of having the students embrace their own learning. However, think of how much WAS covered through this experience. Thanks for sharing your amazing teaching and reflections!

    1. Hi Mary,
      While I do worry about the curriculum I could certainly connect each student's learning to the Common Core as well as the state Frameworks. The real value was what each student learned as was apparent when they described their topics to their classmates. I wonder what took me so long to incorporate this into the classroom.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  8. Nancy,

    First of all, thank you for tweeting your blog post out to me - I haven't been on Twitter in the past couple of days and would have missed this post!! Also, I've only read Denise's comment so far, so please excuse me if I am repeating someone else today.

    I can feel the excitement from your classroom coming through in your words. This, I know, will inspire you to keep it up. I heard from a student on Thursday, "My mom thinks it's great we can learn what we want in school - she wishes she had Genius Hour when she was growing up, too!"

    You asked some questions, so I'll see if I can weigh in...
    -PLEASE let students start their work at home. This is the BEST homework EVER! It's okay if parents help, as that means they are involved in the student learning, too! What an excellent way to encourage passion-driven learning.
    -Students who are not sure what to pursue? I have that right now, too. I try different things throughout the year. My next step is a bulletin board, asking students to post three things - 1) "I wonder..." 2) "I am a genius when it comes to..." and 3) "If I could take a class on ANYthing, it would be..." Hopefully these will spur on some of my students once again. I've seen other ideas in other Genius Hour posts, as well - even just asking students to list 10 things they don't know, but would like to know, or 10 things they'd like to share about what they DO know, etc. This is a constant in our classrooms, and it's because of what your colleague said - they are SOOOO not used to choosing their own learning.
    - Power tools? I'd ask administration. Maybe they could do the planning at school, and the construction under parent supervision. ;-)
    - Back-up plans? They can do as Denise suggested, or they can plan towards their next project, as well. Writing a reflection piece could work, too.

    I love my 1-1 conferences, so good luck with those! It's such a learning curve, but I can tell from your post how excited you are about this change in the classroom! Enjoy the heck out of it - it sounds like the kids do!
    Best wishes,

    1. Joy,
      Thank you so much for responding to my questions. Initially, I was unhappy that students were working on this at home (mostly because I felt they weren't following directions and also, because I didn't want it to be a 'parent project'). However, I realized how silly I was in that way of thinking. These kids were charged up enough to take time out of their day to start! Really, that is the epitome of learning!

      The bulletin board idea is great. I know if students contribute to that then perhaps it will fuel ideas for others. I definitely, will change the planning piece for next time. I'm so excited to see if the kids will be just as enthusiastic about the next one.

      One to one conferences yield so much insight and information. I do with with reading and writing all the time (makes me think I need to start that in Math too! as well as Genius Hour!).

      Thank you so much for taking time to comment. You, Denise and Gallit have really been wonderful resources and inspirations along this path!

  9. Hi Shannon,
    I plan to have the next Genius Hour in February and see how that goes. Hoping for once a month. I really guided students. Kids using tools needed help in learning how to use them carefully. A pair of students working on comic strips finished and I found another comic strip maker for them to try (in hopes they'd compare/contrast). One student needed assistance in finding pictures (pointed them to some copyright free works); some students needed help with powerpoint (changing colors). One student was on a site that was above his reading level so I helped him find a more suitable one for his needs. I went around questioning when I was not helping. As I said, I did have another adult in the room.

  10. Nancy,

    What a great post! I am so glad that you and your students enjoyed Genius Hour!
    Were most of them able to finish their projects in just one hour? I give my students a few 1 hour Genius Hour periods for each inquiry question and then we present every fourth week or so (we have Genius every Friday).
    One of the most wonderful things about Genius Hour, though, is that it can be adapted in so many ways to make it work! I love hearing about how other classes are incorporating Passion Based Learning into their classrooms. Thank you so much for sharing your class with all of us!

    Oh, and I with Joy...let them start at home! I love the idea of them beginning their inquiries with their parents!

    :) Gallit

    1. Hi Gallit,
      Most of the kids finished by the second day (so it was really like 2 hours). Those who had a head start at home were the ones that were done first.

      Really, I had something in my mind so I wasn't thinking it was too much of a success at the end of the first day because they weren't done. Then I went home and thought about it - of course they would need more time if they wanted to share (which is what they all wanted to do!).

      I really like your idea of giving them several Fridays to work on it and share every fourth. Students then understand that it really is about the learning and less about the sharing. I don't want it to be a competition.

      I think I'll plan the next one for a day in February but keep some time the following 2 days to finish.

      Thank you so much for your help in getting started. You, Denise and Joy have been instrumental in helping me on this journey!

      The students really loved it!

  11. Nancy!!!!!!! Okay, after reading all of this, you have inspired me to try this too!! You've helped take the fear out of the unknown!!
    As I usually say, "I would love to be a student in this classroom too" Brava!!

    1. I know your students will love it as they love all you do! You are always full of excitement of new learning yourself that it is contagious! Let me know how it goes.

  12. Aloha Nancy,
    I could feel your energy continue to build as I read your post! Wonderful reflection and I loved the way you allowed us to follow your thinking and raise questions many would wonder about. Thanks so much for sharing and best wishes for continued success!

    1. JoAnn,
      Thank you so much. There are definitely things I will do differently. We are already in the planning stages for Genius Hour #2. The kids have already started asking: Can we have Genius Hour today. Must be doing something right if they are becoming excited as well!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.


  13. Replies
    1. Thank you! I will be sure to check out your blog as well!

  14. Do you have any suggestions about how to do a "genius hour" with students in K-2?

    1. Alyssa - I'm not sure how I would approach it with K-2. Perhaps I would start by exploring things the kids want to learn about. This seems to be the biggest stumbling point that my students had...they didn't have a clear idea or focus. I would visit the Genius Hour Wikispaces in hopes of finding some ideas.

      Hope this is helpful - I am still a pioneer in this area as well.

  15. This is such a great post Nancy, thank you. Your post as well as all the great comments are inspiring, and I am going to investigate how I could do this in my classroom as well!

  16. Hi Kim,
    I think you will be hooked once you start Genius Hour with your students. If you decide to go forward, let me know. I would love for our classes to connect and share their Genius.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!


  17. I'm so glad to find you. I'm planning an Innovation Week - Genius Hour for my K-5 school and most educators are doing them at middle schools.

    I a school technology specialist in Cupertino, Calif. and would love to hear your thoughts on adapting these concepts to K-5.

  18. You can contact me directly at loundy_mark(at) or follow me on Twitter at @markloundy

    I'm Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Mark Loundy
    School Instructional Technology Specialist
    Cupertino Union School District

  19. Thanks for the post. It's great to know that having elementary ed tutoring is accepted. I really am a strong advocate on tutoring. It's a great kind of learning. Good thing that you had peer tutoring in your school.

  20. Thank you for sharing this information -- what a GREAT post! Do you have your details/information you shared with parents/students? I would love to see it.


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